Sunday, December 10, 2017

Turbulence over Aberdeen, South Dakota

 I'm thinking of you

as we prepare to go down

though no one will know it

this page no doubt lost

as our remains and debris

are smeared across

the badlands. Nevertheless

I'm thinking of you, my love,

nothing specific really

just sort of turning over

all my regrets

like sharp stones I can't seem

to stop fingering

even though they slice

my fingertips to shreds

I wonder what

you're doing right now, wonder

what time it is where you are

I wonder what it'll feel like

as we dive, does it really all flash

before your eyes, and if so,

will i be able to savor

the parts in which you starred

Will you hold my hand

and look at me

with those big, sad eyes

one last time

Will the last thing I hear

is your laugh as I tell you

one last stupid joke,

the sound of your voice

as you call me a fucking idiot,

smiling while you say it?












Saturday, December 9, 2017

Your Terrors

My hands cupped together, I scoop out a mound of your terrors, hold them out to you. They glisten midnight blue in the fluorescent light. These new lights don't hum like the old ones did, and the light they cast is cold, cold. Your terrors turn black and dull as they dry in my pale hands. You lap them up. I feel your coarse tongue scrape my fingers. You look at me, your eyes dark and wide, your teeth sharp and gleaming in the cold, cold light. I notice a black clump of grit caught in your gums and reach to pick it out, then think better of it.

You come at me with all your hands held out in tiny fists before you, twenty hands, thirty hands, a single terror clasped within one of them. You beg me to pick. I tap one and it unfurls, empty. I tap another. Empty. This goes on and on. Forty hands, fifty. I am tired of playing this game but you won't let me stop. Finally I clench my hand and hold it out and say to you, pick, and smile at the look on your face when I open my fist.

Your terrors are lined up on the windowsill for the sun to shine through, so they can gaze out at the world through the rain-speckled glass. Your terrors sprout roots, legs, little stalks covered with spores waiting for someone to open the window and blow.

Your terrors are in my mouth. One by one I suck the flesh from them and spit out the pips. You take the pips and grind them with a mortar and pestle, add a splash of rancid milk, stir them into a paste. You close your eyes and smear the paste across your eyelids. When you open your eyes the world will be cloaked in a curtain of flesh. You take that curtain in your teeth and tear it aside.

Your mouth webbed shut to keep the terrors out. My mouth webbed shut to keep the terrors in. We press our webbed shut mouths together. The spider dances between us, ensuring that we shall never pull apart. The banging of a drum, the beating of a heart, neighbor banging on the wall.

Your terrors thrown in the washing machine, plucked out and hung on the line to dry. They still look horrifying, wrinkled and shriveled and dripping in the sun, flapping like great dark wings in the breeze.They still make you run across the lawn, leap the hedges, hide in the garden shed. They still frighten you more than anything you've ever seen. But at least they're clean.

I have an old corn broom to sweep your terrors away. I have an inside-out mask so they won't recognize me when I chase after them. I have a set a of plastic toys: a lion, a sun, a mob of beasts, the wind. I have a map I drew in the dust with the broom stick. I have a number of screens and when the are turned on the world disappears, but the terrors are still there.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Evolution

He sat there on the muddy bank
Wrung the muddy water from his suit
and plodded onto dry land
shoes squelching, leaving
a glistening trail behind him

He sat there behind the desk
talking into phones, staring into screens
Swallowing anything that got too close
Shitting out the bones

He stood there on the stage
screaming from every orifice, every pore
A thousand hungry mouths
wired together in the shape of a man

He hung there in the sky
rope disappearing up into the clouds
His silhouette twisting slightly in the breeze
as a single bird took a shit
on his shoulder

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How Real is It


Not the mask
but the reflection of the mask
in the glass.

Not the reflection of the mask
but the words that describe
the reflection of the mask.

Not the words
but your breath
fogging the glass.

Not your breath
but the way your face looks
behind the mask
after you've expelled
your last breath.

Not even that.

A Toast to Frank Cannon, Etc.

 You wiped the blood from the side of your thumb 
with a gas station receipt. The world was an endless labyrinth 
of windshields, coffee cups, Wa Wa parking lots, Polaroids of girls 
in too tight jeans. You claimed to seek balance 
but secretly craved asymmetry and were never truly happy 
unless things were just on the verge of tipping over.

You felt most alive pushing a cart down the aisles 

of the discount grocery outlet, giddy with the bargains, 
excited by the shelves piled high with merchandise 
of dubious provenance and nutritional value. 
Brands you never heard of, produce veering dangerously close 
to the expiration date. Dented cans 
and packets of foreign gourmet food. 
You would buy as much as your paycheck would allow 
and when you got home you would spread all the boxes and cans 
and sacks out on the kitchen floor 
and just gaze in wonder at the bounty.


You wrestled that overstuffed sofa bed up the stairs.
Paid a couple in a pickup truck to haul away that old fridge,
then had to crawl over it to get to work when they got it
wedged in the stairwell. 
Forgot to pay the electric bill and swung a crutch at the window in rage,
never thinking it would shatter. As you limped downstairs
you were met by the cops with their guns drawn on you,
responding to a disturbance of the peace.
You put your hands up, dropped your crutches.
Disappeared like a chameleon into the pink paisley linoleum.

Every Friday you crunched up that icy alley, 
warmed yourself with whiskey at a table 
in front of that mural of the band of travelers who stood
staring at the castle in the distance, half-obscured 
by the nicotine-yellow clouds. 
You figured you'd be patronizing that place until you died, 
or until they shut it down after one too many muggings outside. 
Or until some maniac with a hammer attacked the bartender 
and his girlfriend as they made their way to their car, 
their clouds of breath turning to nothing, 
disappearing just like you into the night.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Armadillo

I needed you to say a single word
but you never said it

So I took that piece of paper
with the picture of Home on it
and folded it up and put it in my pocket
and never took it out again

Every day I hammered a single nail into the wall

Every day I dipped my fingers in kerosene
then held them to the fire to warm them

Painted black stars across the white sky

Teetered across a rickety bridge made of
the orange incisors of swamp rats

Learned to tolerate the birds' incessant pecking
The insistent packing
The incandescent panicking

Measured my days in cigarette puffs
My hours in dollops of clotted cream
My minutes in black pepper and ball bearings
Year after year I watched the cracks in the dam
fan out

The storm veered sharply off but I got drenched anyways
The ground was shivering so I covered it with a thick blanket
to keep it from catching a cold

I awoke in a garden filled with barbed wire statues
Paintings of carpeted motel rooms hanging
On all the cacti

I strolled through the charcoal gardens, kicking
at the last few glowing embers

Felt something swimming around inside me
as if I was an aquarium

I felt the warmth leaving my body,
being pulled like a ribbon of smoke from my chest

Heard the jingle of a dog's collar in the dark
Stood at the base of a steep road covered
with slippery leaves
My fists were bowling balls
My feet were glue and sawdust

I stared with shiny black eyes
at the heaps of sand
at the plastic plants
at the sculpted stones
at the slab of sizzling asphalt

I retraced my footsteps
dragging myself back through the ash.
My tail grew heavy so I shed it.
My shell grew heavy so I shed that too.
And my spine. My skull

I reached into my pocket
for that folded up piece of paper
but my pocket was empty.

I made a mask of your face
and never took it off.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Yes, My Darling Daughter

“Mother may I go out to swim?”
“Yes, my darling daughter.
Hang your clothes on a hickory limb
And don’t go near the water.”
 
My daughter wakes me up in the middle of the night. “I can’t sleep,” she says. “There’s a rabbit.” I follow her back to her room and look under the bed and in the closet and behind the curtains and even under the rug. She keeps insisting, “There’s a rabbit. There’s a rabbit. He thinks I’m a carrot.” I want to laugh but she’s so scared she’s shaking. I tuck her in next to my wife and spend half the night setting snares and traps around her room. The next morning I open her door. There are rabbits everywhere, twisting in the snares, gnawing at their own legs to try to escape the traps. I hear my daughter padding down the hallway toward me and I smile. When she sees the carnage she runs off crying for my wife. I stand there, puzzled, wondering what I’ve done wrong.


I stand on the curb with my daughter, holding her little hand as we wait for the traffic light to change. Her palm is soft and slightly damp. I give it a squeeze and she squeezes back. I look up and I see her running, already halfway across the busy street, darting between the cars as they speed past. I realize that I am still holding her hand, which is attached to her arm, which is attached to... nothing. I yell and take off after her. Cars honk, brakes screech. My daughter is already safely on the other side, smiling and waving her remaining hand at me. I yell at her not to move. I don’t see the eighteen wheeler bearing down on me until it’s too late.


The floor is covered with the crumpled bodies of all the daughters I’ve plucked and sniffed the fragrance of and worn in my buttonhole until they wilted, at which point I wadded them up and lobbed them in the general direction of the wastepaper basket. There are always more daughters popping up in all the vacant lots and strips of earth that line the sidewalks, turning their pretty petals to the sun, begging their father to pluck them.


There was an explosion and hundreds of them gushed out, a school of spermatozoa swimming frantically, wriggling past one another in their rush to be the first. I think I loved her most then, in that moment when that lucky little tadpole penetrated the membrane of that egg, and stopped being just itself and merged with something else to become her. A tiny reenactment of the big bang: the entire universe exploded outward in that moment. She could have been anyone, done anything. Time had not yet begun hacking away at the possibilities, whittling them down to who she is now, this skinny little creature with Band-aids on her knobby knees, sniffling in constant proximity to tears, the sickly stick figure of my daughter.


I take my daughter fishing. Take her to soccer practice, t-ball matches. Take her to work for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” Take her out for gelato. Drop her off for play dates, sleepovers, archery lessons. Take her to the Girl Scout jamboree. Show her how to load a gun, skin a hide. Take her for tours of the meat packing plant, the sewage treatment facility, the women’s prison. I take her to Klan rallies. Hitler Youth meetings. I take her to lynchings, stonings, mass executions. She smiles as I show her how to make a proper Molotov cocktail, how to sharpen a shiv. She giggles wildly as we club baby seals together. My wife scolds us when we return, gripes about how hard it is to remove blood stains from our matching parkas. My daughter and I wink at one another, knowing she’s not really all that mad, knowing she loves seeing us spend so much quality time together.


My daughter has a birthmark on her cheek, a large purple splotch that vaguely resembles the state of Wisconsin. My wife and I have done our best to keep her from feeling self-conscious about it but she's just reaching the age where kids start noticing such things and mocking each other for being different. We want to protect her but aren't really sure how. My daughter comes home from preschool one day in tears and I want to march in there and tear those little shits from limb to limb, to beat those brats to bloody pulps. “They’re only kids,” my wife insists, and she’s right, but I still want to impale their tiny bodies on spikes and hoist them, still wriggling, to where the birds will pick at their flesh so they may serve as a warning to the rest of the world: this is what happens when you try to fuck with my daughter.


I’m sitting in my chair with my pipe and newspaper when my daughter leaps into my lap with her favorite book and demands that I start reading to her. The same damn book she wants me to read every night about the same damn rabbit. The cover is missing and the pages are held together with tape. I must have read this thing six hundred times, have memorized every word, but so has she and she will tolerate no deviation from the original text. Not that I haven't tried. And God forbid I read too rapidly, or using a goofy voice. That shit will not fly, believe you me. . I've tried hiding the thing but she always finds it. I’d throw it out but to be honest I'm terrified of the consequences. Better to just keep reading it, night after night, as she hangs breathlessly on every word. Maybe I could make it look like an accident; burn down the house, pay someone to break in and steal it. No, she would know. I'm not sure how but somehow she would know, and I am certain that my daughter would never forgive me. I don't blame her. If I was in her place, I wouldn't forgive me either.


Once a week I clean out the bottom of my daughter’s cage. It’s not what you think. I mean, it’s not as bad as it sounds. I mean… look, the wire door is never locked, okay? She can come and go as she pleases, though for some reason she rarely ventures out, no matter how much I coax.


I take my daughter to the playground. No one can see or hear her so the other children shriek with surprise when they try to sit on the swing she’s on, or when she plows into them from behind on the slide. The other parents shoot me looks but I just sit on the bench and yell encouragement as she tries to join in on their games, unintentionally tripping them up as they play tag, wondering why they never find her during hide and seek.


My wife scolds me when I spoil my daughter. She fears it will lead to her turning into the stereotypical Daddy’s Girl, becoming helpless and unable to fend for herself, relying on her father for everything until she is old enough to find a new man to cling to. More than anything, she worries about what will happen to me when that day comes, when I finally have to let go. I smile and nod until she finishes her speech, then I head upstairs to my daughter’s room and slip her a few crisp bills, savoring her embrace, the enthusiasm of which, it must be admitted, has gradually diminished over the years.


I stand in the shower with my jaw slack and my eyes squeezed shut against the hot spray of water. I reach for the soap and hear a shriek. I unclench my eyes and there is my daughter, curled up in the soap dish to sleep, despite the fact that I’ve warned her time and time again about how dangerous it is to do so.


Inside my daughter’s chest is an air bladder which swells and contracts to simulate breath. Her eyelids blink at regular intervals and her lips move when she utters one of the 3700 words and phrases stored in her hard drive. Using the remote control I can make her walk, run, do a stiff little curtsy. With a push of a button she lifts off the ground, rising straight up into the air. With the joystick I can make her soar above the rooftops, fly in various formations through the neighborhoods. All of her tiny warheads are armed, all her ammo is live. They wanted to install a self-destruct button, in case she becomes compromised, but this is where I drew the line. "Not my daughter," I told them, and twisted the knob to turn her head and look at me with what I have been programmed to interpret as gratitude.


My daughter is scribbling with crayons at the kitchen table. We don’t have any paper so she’s drawing directly on the tabletop. When she's covered the entire surface she doodles down the table legs and onto the floor, then up the walls as far as her chubby little hands will reach. When every surface of the house is covered with brightly colored squiggles, she looks like she is going to burst into tears, until I open the door and gesture at the sidewalk stretching out endlessly before her.




My daughter has no solid form, she’s just a little smear of goo, a blob of jelly, a gelatinous glob of protoplasm that I sometimes like to lift and let drip through my fingers. Always attempting to mold her into a definite shape. Always failing.


I bought my daughter all these expensive Barbies but they sit sealed up in their boxes. She prefers to play with vegetables; carrots and potatoes and turnips and celery stalks, dressing them all up in clothes made of washcloths and tissues. Soon she’s moved on to the meat group, making paper hats for the chicken legs and pork chops. Making fish heads kiss, building houses for them out of short ribs. When her little food friends start to decay, she hides them in various places around the house. I try to find them but I never can, even though the entire place smells like a compost bin.


I have another daughter, you know. A shadow of the first. Her laugh is more brittle and she creeps rather than walks along. Her marks in school are superior to my other daughter's, but the notes her teacher sends home give my wife and I pause. Both daughters shy away from the sun, though one only loves the rain while the other shows a marked preference for snow. My shadow daughter creaks like a cicada at night, keeping us all awake. My wife claims she takes after me. She creaks like a cicada when she says it but when I press her she won't explain what precisely she means. Only one of my daughters can fit in the room at any one  time. I'll be the first to admit that there’s trouble in our house but I can’t put my finger on the source. Every day my wife is laughing at me like a hailstorm on a corrugated metal shed and when I hear that laugh I look in the mirror and see my daughter looking out at me, I can’t tell which one, and a shadow flits across my face like a passing bird, like a large, troublesome insect scraping its wings together, circling as it searches for a safe place to land.


Last night I had that dream again, that terrible dream in which I didn’t have a daughter, didn’t even have a wife, didn't have any sort of family, had no one to care for in my life at all. I awoke with a jolt and leaped out of bed and ran down the hall to my daughter’s room and watched her as she slept, clutching her doll and slurping at her thumb, and I whispered over and over to myself, Thank God it was just a dream, and I could hear my words echoing through the empty rooms and down the empty streets, past the empty houses, finally dissolving into the darkness of the empty world.


I spy on my daughter through the kitchen curtains as she sits in the plastic kiddie pool in the backyard. She’s not splashing or playing, she just sits there, starting across the yard. What is she starting at? What is she feeling? What is going on in that little head of hers? The fact that I will ever know will haunt me to the end of my days.


After the game one night the guys get together at the pub to brag about their daughters. “My daughter can outrun a cheetah,” one says. “My daughter’s 1000 feet tall,” says another. “My daughter discovered plutonium,” says a third. Another man’s daughter invented indoor plumbing. Another is the Hindu goddess Shiva, the great destroyer. One sprouts organs which grow like fruit and can be harvested and given to hospitals in third world countries to use as transplants for poor children. I’m the only one who hasn’t spoken up yet. I look around at all the proud fathers and I say to them, “My daughter is dead.” The bar is suddenly hushed and all the lights go out except for a lone spotlight shining on me from above, and I turn my face toward it and bask in its glow as all the other fathers swallow their beer in silence.


Is there anything as selfish, as completely thoughtless and irresponsible, than having a daughter? Only the most sadistic monster would dare commit such an atrocity. Any decent human being who watches the news for even a few minutes would instantly run out and get themselves sterilized to make sure there is no chance of ever bringing such a fragile, innocent creature into this brutal world. I consider it the worst sin possible. I mean, look at my daughter, sitting there in her tutu and tiara and fairy wings, singing a song to her teddy bear. She still believes in Santa Claus for God's sake, the Tooth Fairy. I feel soul-sick, feel like the worst scum for what I have done. She looks up at me and smiles; her front baby teeth are gone. She didn't even notice when they fell out, it was so swift and painless. I pray for her end to be the same.


When my daughter asks me where she came from, I tell her I bought her at the Daughter Mart on Carmichael Drive, right next to the Costco. I describe the miles of shelves piled up to the ceiling with daughters of every size and shape and color. I tell her about pushing my cart up and down the aisles for hours until I found just the right one, i.e. her, how I wheeled her to the checkout line then fumbled in my wallet for the coupon I’d clipped and even though it was expired I decided to buy her anyways. I pause to let this sink in but she just stares at me. I tell her about how my credit card was declined, how embarrassed I was, how I had to call the bank with this long line of customers behind me, how I finally got everything straightened out and carried her home in a brown paper bag. “I don’t believe you, Daddy,” my daughter says wearily, and that’s when I reach into my pocket and pull out the receipt.


My daughter is a wave          a particle         a wave
My daughter is time          is space           is time
My daughter is energy          is matter         is energy
My daughter is alive         is deceased         is alive
Sunlight flickers through the branches 
[dark, light, dark]
as I drive with my daughter on our way to the coast 
[sea, sand, sea]
She dozes on and off strapped in her car seat, slipping in and out of sleep.
Dream, my daughter
Awaken, my daughter 
Dream


I lead my daughter to the bathroom, help her climb onto the toilet. “I’ll be right outside,” I tell her. “Just call me when you’re done.” She says okay and I step into the hallway and close the door to wait. It’s been weeks and months and years and I’m still waiting.


“My daughter has stopped loving me,” I sing. “My daughter no longer cares for me. Maybe she never did. My daughter has given up on me, abandoned me, wants nothing to do with me.” I sing it at the top of my lungs, sing it to the stars, to the clouds, to the ceiling, to the sidewalk. I sing it at work, in the car, in the shower. I sing it while I’m eating, sing it as I’m having sex with my wife. “My daughter no longer lo-o-oves me!” I scream at the world. And the world rolls her eyes and goes back to texting her friends, telling them what a weirdo her father is, this entire world which I dare to call my daughter.


I buy my daughter a turtle. She names it after me, which is a little weird but hey, it’s her damn turtle. She feeds it every day and once a week I help her change the water.  The turtle lives for a few years and when it dies we bury it in the backyard. I say a few words over the grave, and actually get a little choked up. My daughter just stands there stoically staring ahead during the entire ceremony. That night as I’m tucking her in I ask her how she feels about losing her turtle. “But you’re the turtle,” she says in a serious tone of voice. “No, honey, we buried your turtle,” I say. “We buried my daddy,” she says, looking at me as if trying to tell if I’m messing with her. “I’m your daddy,” I say. “No, you’re a turtle,” she says, beginning to sound frustrated. Death is confusing for kids. I decide to let the matter drop. But in the middle of the night I find myself on my knees in the backyard, clawing at the fresh earth, just to make sure.


I read the stories about my daughter to my wife. She says they sound like they were written by a man who has never had a daughter, who has never had any children at all for that matter. “Though maybe you’re in the mood to try and change that?” she says, batting her eyelashes and pursing her lips, raising the hem of her dress to show some thigh. “Jesus, Hon. Not in front of the kids,” I say.


I take my daughter to the kiddie matinee at the local cinema. They’re showing some Italian horror movie from the seventies. Gallons of cherry syrup splash across the screen as one innocent girl after another is disemboweled, dismembered, eaten alive by rubber-faced zombies. I keep flinching, watching through my fingers, my teeth clenched tight as my daughter screams with laughter, happily munching her popcorn like it was a bucket of brains.


We’re running late so I take my daughter to the drive-through at Jack in the Box. I instruct her not to tell my wife, who would kill me if she found out. My daughter just chomps her fries in silence. “I mean it,” I warn. “Not a word.” More silence. "NOT. A. WORD," I say. She dips a fry in ketchup and stares right at me as she bites it. “Okay. What do you want,” I sigh. “What is it going to take to keep you quiet.” She turns away and looks out the window. I can practically see her little thoughts churning in her little head and I know that I am completely and utterly screwed.


I sit beside my daughter as she lies in her hospital bed, tubes and wires sprouting everywhere . Her face is crazed with wrinkles, her skull polka-dotted with liver spots. Her tiny hand is covered with fat veins but weighs almost nothing. I hold it gently, afraid of crushing the brittle bones. Her hair is gray and stringy, her eyes sunken deep in her skull. How did she get to be so much older than me? How did I not notice it happening? When she speaks it’s in a raspy whisper, like dry leaves being blown across the sidewalk. I lean in closer to hear. “Remember the night I saw the rabbit  in my room?” she croaks. “I was so scared. Do you remember?” “Of course,” I tell her, but it isn’t true. I don’t remember at all.